Let me describe two kinds of hard workers. The first hard worker does wonderful work as long as the work goes exactly as it is supposed to go. If the job that he is doing proceeds exactly as it should, he is an excellent worker. The work he does is done right. But if a problem develops, or if something does not go as it should, he quits the project. He never quits to do nothing. He quits to begin another project.

The second hard worker never gives up. If something goes wrong, he determines why it went wrong. If he needs to correct something, he studies and works until it is corrected. He is determined to finish every project he begins. He is determined to do the job right. He refuses to quit until the job is completed correctly.

To you, which of those two workers describes the way God works? When God begins a people project, and the people project does not go as it should, does God quit that people project and begin another people project? Or, does God refuse to quit until the people project is completed correctly?

  1. Let's get specific about the way that God works on His people projects.
    1. The Bible is divided into two major sections: Old Testament and New Testament.
      1. The first section is very old.
        1. It deals with a people called Israel.
        2. These people were the physical descendants of a man called Abraham.
        3. God began this people project with Abraham.
        4. God had some specific goals and objectives for these people.
        5. He had a specific vision of what He wanted these people to become.
        6. But Old Testament Israel failed to become the community that God envisioned.
      2. The second section of the Bible is old by our standards, but it is much newer than the first section.
        1. It deals with a people who are called the church.
        2. These people responded to Jesus Christ by accepting him as Savior.
        3. God began this people project with Jesus.
        4. God also has specific goals and objectives for these people.
        5. He has a specific vision of what these people can become.
        6. So far, these people also have failed to become the community that God envisioned.
    2. Allow me to ask you some specific questions.
      1. God made Israel a nation, but Israel failed to become the community that God wanted them to be. Did God drop the people project called Israel and began another people project called the church?
      2. Did God begin the church because Israel failed to be the community that God wanted them to be?
      3. Were Old Testament Israel and the church two completely different people projects?
      4. Or, is Old Testament Israel and the church a continuation of the same people project?

  2. I want you to compare your answers to those questions with some Bible information.
    1. First, I want you to consider some information given to Old Testament Israel in Deuteronomy 15. This information was given in the form of laws.
      1. Notice the kind of community that the Israelites were to become in regard to taking care of the poor.
      2. This chapter makes two of three major provisions for poor Israelites.
        1. One provision was the forgiveness of debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-11).
        2. Another provision limited servitude to six years (Deuteronomy 15:12-18).
          1. An Israelite servant must be released from servitude on the seventh year.
          2. He must be set free "liberally furnished."
        3. A third provision was involved in the way you harvested your crops (Leviticus 19:9,10).
          1. You had to leave part of your crop in the field for the poor to gather.
          2. You has to leave fallen fruit on the ground for the needy to gather.
      3. The first provision is in the form of laws about forgiving debts to Israelites.
        1. If a poor Israelite needed to borrow money to care for needs, a fellow Israelite was to loan him the money willingly (15:8).
        2. Another law stated that an Israelite could not charge a fellow Israelite interest on the loan (Deuteronomy 23:19,20).
        3. Deuteronomy 15:9 says that you can loan him the money for no more than seven years.
          1. He is responsible to repay you and must make a earnest attempt to repay you.
          2. If he is unable to repay you in the seven years, on the seventh year the debt was forgiven; after seven years the debt was canceled.
        4. This law applied only to Israelites loaning money to Israelites; debts to people who were not Israelites were not forgiven (15:3).
      4. Listen to these verses:
        Deuteronomy 15:4,5 However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        Deuteronomy 15:7,8 If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
        (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        Deuteronomy 15:10,11 You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'
        (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      5. These laws illustrate the fact that God wanted Israel to be a special community.
        1. "I, God, gave you freedom when I released you from Egypt."
        2. "I, God, will give you your homeland, the land of Canaan."
        3. "I, God, will be the direct source of your prosperity in your homeland."
        4. "If I take care of you in this way, you must take care of each other."
      6. If Israel had the faith to become this special community, God made them a promise.
        1. "If you have the faith to be the special community that I want you to be, I will bless you."
        2. "But only by trusting me can you be that special community."
      7. Notice that God knew that these laws would not eliminate poverty.
        1. It is quite plain that those laws did not exist to destroy poverty.
        2. God plainly said, "The poor will never cease to be in your land."
      8. If this would not eliminate poverty, why did God want them to do it?
        1. Israel was to be a unique community because they belonged to God.
        2. No other community in all the world was like them.
        3. Specifically what would set them apart from all other communities?
          1. Their religious laws, their altar, their temple, their worship? No.
          2. The way they treated each other would make them unique.
        4. The only reason that they would exist as this special community was their special relationship with God.
        5. God made the difference; God was the reason for the difference.
        6. When the people who were not Israelites saw the difference, they would honor and glorify the God of Israel.
      9. Being this special community was God's great vision for Israel.
        1. But Israel reduced God's great vision to nothing more than another religion.
        2. They thought they were different because of their law, or because of their worship, or because of the temple that they built.
        3. Instead of Israelites becoming God's unique people, they settled for being religious in the sense everyone else was religious.
        4. And God's great vision never happened in Old Testament Israel.

  3. Fifty days after God raised Jesus from the dead, Peter preached the first sermon that presented Jesus as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).
    1. Three thousand people who understood that Jesus was Lord and Christ were baptized that day for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38,41).
    2. Listen to what they became as a community, and see if it sounds familiar.
      1. They devoted themselves to fellowship (Acts 2:42).
      2. They were together (Acts 2:44).
      3. They had all things in common (Acts 2:44).
      4. They shared their possessions with anyone of the believers who had needs (Acts 2:45).
      5. With joy and sincerity, they shared meals (Acts 2:46).
      6. They were of one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32).
      7. They regarded all possessions as common property (Acts 4:32).
      8. There was not a needy person among them (Acts 4:34).
      9. They sold possessions to create a fund that was used to help any one who had a need (Acts 4:34,35).
    3. Look at the specifics.
      1. Who was Jesus? The promised Israelite who came to the Christ.
      2. Who was Peter? An Israelite who followed Jesus.
      3. Who was the multitude that heard Peter's sermon? Israelites and proselytes.
      4. Who were the three thousand that were baptized? Israelites and proselytes.
      5. The very first congregation was an Israelite congregation.
    4. And what kind of community did they become? The community that God always envisioned--a people who were unique in the way they treated each other because they belonged to God.

Consider an extremely important truth. When these people accepted Jesus as Lord and Christ, they became the community that God always intended His people to be.

God's people have a unique relationship with God. They demonstrate this unique relationship in the way that they treat each other.

The world will be increasingly disinterested in our God if we act like just another church. Until people can see that we treat each other differently, we treat our families differently, and we simply treat people differently, the world will not be interested in our God or our Savior.

When people see that we treat our families, each other, and people differently because of the God we serve, then and only then will they want to learn about our God and our Savior. What we are as a community of faith must fulfill God's great vision.

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another" (John 13:35).

Do you have a dream for this congregation?
An important dream worth giving your life for?

Devotion to doing things "right" is not my dream. That's not to say that I don't think that is important, but that is less than my dream.

Let's make it evident that we belong to God. We can prove to our community that we love God by the way we treat others.

Being just right or just committed or just biblical is not enough. Let's be what those things are supposed to produce. God can change the way you live and the way you treat others. Let's change the world by changing the way we treat each other.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 August 1998

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